By Hana Medina
SMOKING MEATS AND other foods may
seem like a modern backyard barbecue craze,
but it’s actually as ancient as it comes; cave-men would hang meats in caves near smoky
fires as part of the preserving process. Today,
a smoker is less of a survival tool and more of
a sign that your backyard gathering is about
to go up a notch.
Smoking (also referred to as “barbecuing”
in some locales) uses indirect heat and smoke
to cook and flavor foods, rather than the direct
heat of a grill. With smoking, it’s all about low
temperatures and long cooking times.
Smoking methods and smoking units
abound (electric, gas, charcoal and hardwood
are the main four), but no matter which
method you use, you can follow a few basic
rules to ensure your efforts result in flavorful
meals, rather than dried-out disasters.
Before you begin
Learn your smoker. Regardless of the type
of smoker you have, the basics are the same:
Start the fire, have patience and let it work its
magic. The kind of smoker you have will determine cooking time and whether and when you
need to add more wood. Be sure to consult
your unit’s manual for specific instructions.
Pick your wood. “I always look at those
woods as the start of my recipe. This is where it
begins,” Ted Reader, Costco member, chef,
cookbook author and TV personality, tells The
Connection from his home in Toronto. Your
wood of choice will impart a unique flavor to
your foods (see “Woodsmoke pairings”).
Note the weather. Costco member Bill
Preparing and smoking food
Gillespie, cookbook author and pitmaster of
the award-winning Smokin’ Hoggz barbecue
competition team in Abington, Massachusetts,
advises, “The colder it is outside, the more
fuel [your smoker is] going to use to maintain
Layer your flavors and keep the meat
moist. The key to tender smoked meat is
keeping it moist throughout the cooking process. Brine, marinate and inject cuts with flavorful liquids. Layering on dry rubs, and
spraying on a liquid, such as apple juice, while
cooking, will add loads of flavor.
Reader recommends brining whole chickens, turkeys and lean pork; since they’re naturally lean meats, the salty solution helps them
to better retain moisture. Brining is not necessary for pork shoulder, beef or lamb; instead,
Reader says, look for high-quality cuts with a
lot of marbling—the natural fat content helps
to keep the meat moist throughout cooking.
Marinades, injections and spritzers are also
good options with these cuts.
Marinades and/or seasonings are the only
things seafood needs to shine. And Gillespie
says you don’t need to pile on a lot of season-
ings for smaller cuts of meat. “I want to be
able to taste the meat, not just the seasoning,”
Smoking is not just for meat. Reader
says that fruits, such as pears, and stone fruits,
such as cherries, fare well, but be careful not
to oversmoke them.
It’s also important to keep vegetables
moist. Reader advises blanching a whole cauliflower before putting it in the smoker, and
cooking hard vegetables, such as potatoes,
nearly all the way through beforehand.
There are also many recipes for smoked
pizza and even smoked desserts. Don’t be
afraid to get creative; Reader says he has even
smoked water, which he freezes to make
A rookie mistake
Keep a lid on it. Don’t keep opening the
lid of the smoker to check on your meal. Have
patience, and ensure you’re maintaining a
consistent temperature by investing in a good
Gillespie says, “They say if you’re looking,
you ain’t cooking!”
Take notes. Gillespie and Reader both
recommend writing down your methods in a
notebook in order to duplicate a successful
recipe or avoid repeating mistakes.
Have fun. “And make sure your beer is
cold,” says Reader. “If you can [have fun] and
try a little bit harder every time you do it, you
will enjoy smoking foods. And really, it’s simple. It’s a great way to impress your friends
and family.” C
add depth of flavor
at your table
— Bill Gillespie